Posted in Content Strategy

Content Analysis: Covenanthouse.org

Covenanthouse.org is a charity that raises awareness and funds to homeless youth. Using the software Screaming Frog SEO Spider, I was able to discover a lot more into the site itself. I already knew what the charity was as I had participated in the charity at my high school for a couple of years. Instead of trying to learn more about charity , it was time to learn more about the site and its meta data.

The most interesting that I found in my research is the percentage of images per page that Covenant House has. Over 99% of the pages have images on them. When compared to a similar site like Children.org, Covenant House has 85% more images per page. This isn’t the stereotypical meta data information, but pictures add such a huge element to a website, and I think Covenant House does a great job at balancing the images with the writing.

To see the full content analysis click below:

Posted in Content Strategy

What are the Different Types of Content?

When asked about content, what is the first thing that pops into your head? Probably some form of media like a television show you watch or a YouTube channel you follow. That falls under the category of content creation, but there are other forms of content that aren’t as widely known to people, who aren’t in the content field. There are three main types of content:

  1. Content Creation – the contribution of information to any media and most especially to digital media for an end-user/audience in specific contexts.
  2. Content Marketing – a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
  3. Content Strategy – the discipline responsible for satisfying business requirements through content creation and distribution.

When wanting to start something that is content you would want to start with content strategy. “You wouldn’t start building a house without a blueprint, a sculpture without a sketch, or a company without a mission statement. So, there should be no content creation without a plan. Otherwise you risk getting derailed from your objective. A content strategy includes everything from brand and tone to how you will promote your content and eventually repurpose it” (blog.hubspot.com). Content strategy is the building blocks of what you are trying to create, without it you are essentially flying blind.

Following content strategy, the next step is content marketing. “What good is it to create all this great content if no one sees it? In a perfect world, herds of people would flock to your site every time you published a new post. In reality — especially when you’re just starting out — you’ll need to entice people to consume your content and even shepherd them into your online space” (blog.hubspot.com). You have all these good ideas about what you want to produce but nobody to show it to. That’s what content marketing is for. In order to create good content marketing you need to provide content that makes your buyers more intelligent. “The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyal” (contentmarketinginstitute.com).

Last but not least is content creation. You’ve strategized about the brand and tone you want to promote and you’ve marketed your idea. Now it’s finally time to create your content. “Content creation is an iterative process that pays off tremendously with your audience. Once you have the content creation process down, you’ll be able to generate creative work that not only delights your audience but also grows your business” (blog.hubspot.com). Content creation can be anything you want it to be. You can write a script or provide a site that provides services. The ideas you can have for your own content are almost limitless.

After these brief introductions into what each form of content is, it’s time to figure out what makes them similar and different. The easy connection between the three forms of content is that they all revolve around content. This is true, but to get more in-depth about it, to have successful content you cannot have one without the other. You can’t write an essay about World War 2 without first researching it, right? It’s the same premise with content.

Content marketing is a means of marketing. “Content marketers draw and develop the larger story that our organization wants to tell, and focus on ways to engage an audience, using content so that it changes or enhances a behavior…” (contentmarketinginstitute.com). In other words, it means that content marketing is a marketing strategy that uses the content you’re creating to form a better relationship with the customer.

Content strategy, on the other hand “…refers to the overarching plan you have for every piece of content related to your business” (kontent.ai). This includes:

  1. Set Measurable and Achievable Goals
    1. Goals and objectives need to be clearly defined and each piece of content should be created for a specific purpose.
  2. Build Journeys
    1. What is the journey your audience is going to take with your content?
  3. Choose Content Types
    1. “Producing content is great, but what kind of content best conveys the message of your brand? You may want to consider things like infographics, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, Medium articles, and other content types to complement your standard blog posts” (kontent.ai).
  4. Define Distribution and Promotion Channels
    1. Where is the content being sent after you create it?
  5. Create an Editorial Calendar
    1. The calendar should outline when and where your content is being published.

Now onto content creation. Content creation doesn’t really have many similarities with content strategy and content marketing other than the fact that they all revolve around content and content creation being the final goal of content strategy and content marketing. It’s also similar to content strategy because both involve quite a lot of analysis on your part. You need to analyze your content in content strategy to see what needs to be fixed. Analyzing your content during content creation helps to form the best content possible. Content creation is the final frontier of the process, it’s the physical process of creating your content.

References

“Content Creation.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Sept. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_creation.“Content Marketing.” 

Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Oct. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_marketing.

Estes, Benjamin. “What Is Content Strategy?” Distilled, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.distilled.net/resources/what-is-content-strategy/.

Fridrich, Ondrej. “Content Strategy vs Content Marketing: The Key Differences.” 

Kentico Kontent, 10 Aug. 2017, https://kontent.ai/blog/content-strategy-vs-content-marketing.“Getting Started.” Content Marketing Institute, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/getting-started/.

Perricone, Christina. “The Ultimate Guide to Content Creation.” HubSpot Blog, 15 Oct. 2019, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-creation.

Rose, Robert. “How Content Strategy and Content Marketing Are Separate But Connected.” Content Marketing Institute, 2 Apr. 2015, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/10/content-strategy-content-marketing-separate-connected/.

“What Is Content Marketing?” Content Marketing Institute, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/.

Posted in Content Strategy

Developing a Good Content Strategy

           The first step in developing a content strategy is to figure out what’s wrong with the content. Why aren’t you getting the traffic that you initially thought you would receive? Start to hypothesize what could be wrong. For example, “The majority of the content on your site is for <audience a>, but you’re really trying to increase conversation with <audience b>” (Casey 6). Once you’ve figured out what you think the problem is you can decide how you want to prove or disprove them. For the example that we’ve chosen, we would use “user testing”. If you want to increase conversations with <audience b> get that audience to test out the new content that you’re providing. “Getting insights from actual users is a great way to add some subjectivity to your assessment. You can look at things like how content makes a user feel, how easy your content is to understand, and how findable key content is” (Casey 8).

           Now that a problem has been identified because of the user testing, try and turn it into an opportunity. No one likes problems, but opportunities can be worked with, especially when pitching this project to your higher-ups. When pitching your project to the higher-ups keep a few things in mind. “First, it may make sense to start with something small that doesn’t require a ton of time or budget. Decision-makers have a harder time saying no to something little risk” (Casey 15). Secondly, remember that they want to do what’s right. The higher-ups and decision-makers will spend their time and money on a lot of the right things. Convince them that your project is one of them.

           Now, to convince them of your project you need to state your case. It’s almost like a math problem. Talk about the missed opportunities that could be had if your project isn’t given resources. Let’s go back to our original example. Let’s say <audience a> are ages 25-40 and <audience b> are ages 16-24.

           Your pitch: We need to make our site more mobile-friendly. “In 2013, Netbiscuits research found that 76% of consumers will abandon a website if it’s not optimized for mobile browsing, while over 30% simply won’t bother trying to use a brand’s non-optimized site, or turn to a competitor instead” (wired.com). We need to connect to people aged 16-24. 18% of that age group spend nearly 50 hours a week online and 95% of this age group get online using their smartphone. If we make the site more mobile-friendly, we reduce the risk of losing 76% of 16-24 year-olds and increase the probability of gaining more users. There’s no risk in making a more mobile-friendly site.

           Once you’ve finished your pitch it’s time to get stakeholders on board. “Stakeholder involvement and alignment will make or break your project. This is true for pretty much any project an organization takes on. But it’s especially true for content projects” (Casey 27). A stakeholder is anyone who can affect or is affected by the project. There are five different roles for stakeholders:

  1. Project Owner
    1. “The person who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the project” (Casey 28). This could be you.
  2. Decision Makers
    1. Your project will help solve their problems. They will typically say a lot regarding the project and can approve or veto the work.
  3. Champions
    1. These people will tell others the importance of your project.
  4. Influencers
    1. This role is like decision-makers, but they don’t have the power to approve or veto the work.
  5. Derailers
    1. This role can stop a project in its tracks.

Along with the five different types of roles there are for stakeholders there are also four different types of stakeholders:

  1. Strategic
    1. They set the vision and goals for the business.
  2. Expert
    1. “These are the subject matter experts who have the detailed knowledge about an organization’s products, services, offerings, and so on” (Casey 29).
  3. Implementer
    1. This type of stakeholder is responsible for putting your strategy into action.
  4. User Proxy
    1. These are the people who have knowledge/ experience related to your target audience.

Now, with the knowledge of the different roles and types that stakeholders can be it’s time to create a team. Figure out who you want to work with and who you should talk to regarding each point in your project. Start filling in each person that comes to mind into one of their roles or types. Remember, throughout this whole process you need to keep your stakeholders in the loop.

With your team fully formed, it’s time to put people in their appropriate places. You don’t want your experts on 16-24 year-olds to set the vision for the project, right? You want them focused on user proxy. Make sure each person/ group is playing to their strong suits (That’s why you filled in each person to a specific role and type).

Before you begin the actual project, you need to have your opening meeting. The first meeting would be used to just outline what the project is and to make sure every person understands each step and how they will all be involved in the project. Every meeting should have a set of ground rules. It’s up to you to make them, but a few good ones to have would be no electronics (unless needed) or no interruptions. Make sure if someone is talking everyone listens.

Now with the meeting and ground rules out of the way, it’s time to get started on the project.

Create a checklist of what needs to be planned for. For example, you would need someone to scout other sites and see how they were made more mobile-friendly. Along with the checklist, make sure there’s “…a single source of truth about the project that everyone can reference. Projects oftentimes get underway and go off the rails because objectives were misinterpreted, deliverables weren’t clearly defined, a date got pushed back that caused a snowball effect, or an important decision didn’t get documented and communicated” (Casey 50).

Don’t forget to include a budget. A budget is a must, just like the checklist and the source of truth. “If you’re hiring someone from the outside to do most of the work, you could just include the total budget for the work. If you’re doing the work internally, I suggest listing the number of hours you’re estimating it will take for each person or team” (Casey 52). A budget helps keep you on track, it’s probably one of the most important things to have for a project to be successful, especially if you’re outsourcing. If you don’t set up a time frame or budget no one is going to know when their deadline is or how much they can spend. This could result in you having to pay an outsourced member of the team, much more than originally thought. If you budgeted correctly and gave them a flat fee instead of an hourly wage, it not only saves you and the company money but also pushes the person to get everything in on time, because they don’t make any more money if they keep pushing it aside.

References

Casey, Meghan. The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right. New Riders, 2015.

Daniel Weisbeck, Netbiscuits. “Context Is King – Long Live the King.” Wired, Wired, 7 Aug. 2015, https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/01/context-king-long-live-king/.

Hymas, Charles. “A Fifth of 16-24 Year Olds Spend More than Seven Hours a Day Online Every Day of the Week, Exclusive Ofcom Figures Reveal.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 11 Aug. 2018, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/11/fifth-16-24-year-olds-spend-seven-hours-day-online-every-day/.

Posted in Content Strategy

Has Content Strategy Changed?

When you think about content, what immediately pops into your head? For me, I think of videos. Whether that’s a movie, TV show, Youtube video. Any form of “moving picture” is what I think of when I hear content. Two hundred years ago, “moving pictures” didn’t exist, but content was still there. They had books and plays. We still have those now, but the mainstream view of content has become increasingly digital. Plays can now be considered “moving pictures” if you watch them through a screen; the same thing with books. “More tools, channels and platforms means more content than ever is being uploaded…” (firehead.net). With more and more ways to get content out there, content strategists need to adapt.

“Content marketing has seen a lot of changes during the past few years. Many of these changes can be attributed to the rapidly evolving search landscape, as well as a huge shift in the way people are actually discovering content” (blog.hubspot.com). A major problem that content strategists have to deal with is search engines. I’d say it’s safe to say that if you have internet access you use a search engine. Search engines are great. They help you find whatever you want with the click of a button. It would make sense that that would help content strategists, right? Wrong. It just makes life more difficult for them. “…depending on how and where you’re searching from, you’ll see different search results, which makes it difficult to evaluate success based on keyword rankings alone” (blog.hubspot.com). This makes it more difficult for a smaller company based in New Jersey to have their content seen by someone in California.

This challenges content strategists to adapt. If they don’t adapt, they risk losing their costumers to more user-friendly sites. For example, cell phones have become a huge place for content to be seen. Cell phones have gained internet access and friends and family can share videos or images or a website with each other via one simple text. The problem here lies within whether or not something is mobile friendly. No website was mobile-friendly when smartphones first came out.

Nowadays, if your content isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re probably going to lose your users. “Brands failing to drill down to this level and deliver adaptive experiences run the risk of customers abandoning their websites. In 2013, Netbiscuits research found that 76% of consumers will abandon a website if it’s not optimized for mobile browsing, while over 30% simply won’t bother trying to use a brand’s non-optimized site, or turn to a competitor instead” (wired.com).

References

Colman, Jonathon, et al. “A Brief History of Content Strategy.” Firehead, Firehead Digital Communications, 26 Mar. 2019, https://firehead.net/2013/06/a-brief-history-of-content-strategy/.

Daniel Weisbeck, Netbiscuits. “Context Is King – Long Live the King.” Wired, Wired, 7 Aug. 2015, https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/01/context-king-long-live-king/.

Howells-Barby, Matthew. “The Future of Content Strategy.” HubSpot Blog, HubSpot, 3 Oct. 2019, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/content-marketing-strategy.

Posted in Content Strategy

The Content I Create

My dream job would be to be a content creator. I’ve always had a big passion for creating, ever since I was a little kid. I would write out scripts for me and my neighbors to put on for our parents. Funny enough, that led me to where I am today. After a few bumps in the road I re-discovered my passion for creating when I switched my major (for the second time) to Film, Television, and Media Arts. I was fortunate enough to be able to write a feature-length script as my senior project, and it’s one of the pieces of content that I’ve created that I’m most proud of.

The process of writing that feature-length script was probably my first introduction into content strategy. “Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content” (alistapart.com). Now, during that process we didn’t go through every step of content strategy. We went over the creation portion. In writing a script this would be the Beat Sheet, treatment, character descriptions, potential actors we would want, and then of course writing the script itself. We talked for a little about the publication process. Mainly, where we could submit it in order to gain the most attention (The Nicholl Fellowship). Then of course how pertinent it was to register our scripts with the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) so it’s officially ours to use.

This past summer, up to now, has been the most content I’ve produced. I’m currently starting a business (metanet.gg). My job has been to produce social media posts about how the site has been coming along and updates about our Kickstarter (we reached our goal!). Our content will now be shifting towards what we believe our users want. That would be articles and videos geared towards the gaming industry (as the site is for gamers). We’ve already produced two short articles which would give us 14 benefit points, “600 words, meaning a cost of 3 minutes to read (assuming a reading speed of 200 wpm). 7 benefit units gained from reading each article” (nngroup.com). We’ve also produced a guide on how to play Samus which is a longer article (as well as a video) which gives us 10 benefit points, “1,000 words, meaning a cost of 5 minutes to read. 10 benefit units gained from reading each article” (nngroup.com).

The trend we have is good, two short articles to every one article. We’re definitely going to try to keep to shorter articles as “…short articles were 60% of the length of the long articles but still provided 70% of the benefit” (nngroup.com). Even with that being said, the longer articles do still have a place on the site as a mix of the two will generate the most benefit units per hour.

The Nielsen Norman Group states, “If you want many readers, focus on short and scannable content. This is a good strategy for advertising-driven sites or sites that sell impulse buys. If you want people who really need a solution, focus on comprehensive coverage. This is a good strategy if you sell highly targeted solutions to complicated problems.”

Since we want a combination of both (many readers and people who want to focus on comprehensive coverage) the 2/3 short articles and 1/3 long articles is the best content strategy for our site.

References

Halvorson, Kristina, et al. “The Discipline of Content Strategy.” A List Apart, 17 Dec. 2008, https://alistapart.com/article/thedisciplineofcontentstrategy/.

Nielsen, Jakob, and Jakob Nielsen. “Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy.” Nielsen Norman Group, Nielsen Norman Group, 11 Nov. 2007, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/content-strategy-long-vs-short/?lm=content-strategy&pt=course.

Posted in Visual Storytelling

Emotion in Theater

What is emotion? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines emotion as “a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body” (merriam-webster.com). Without emotion, everything would be bland. Which is why storytellers have such an important job in today’s world. It’s even harder for visual storytellers to tell a story. You can convey emotion through words, but through movement or pictures it’s a lot more difficult.

Enter the world of theater. Theater creates emotion through words, movements, facial expressions. Nearly everything that happens in a show has a purpose and causes an emotion. This is why emotion is incredibly important in the world of theater. Different directors, designers, and actors go about showing emotion in a multitude of ways. Not one is the same. Which makes sense since everyone is different and they all have different ideas.

Lighting design may be one of the more challenging aspects of showing emotion. “Emotional lighting can be described as the potential of lighting being used to induce relaxation, motivation, and intimate atmosphere (“Emotional Lighting,” Right Light); it is simply lighting used to provoke emotions” (pages.uncc.edu). Lighting in theater has two purposes. The first is fairly obvious, make sure the actors and set pieces are seen when they need to be. The second is to make sure the lighting correctly sets the mood of the seen. You wouldn’t want to watch an intimate love scene being blasted with yellow light, right?

There are many similarities in the emotions that colors portray in theater to that of Plutchik’s color wheel. The biggest difference I’ve found through being around theater my whole life and doing my own research is the color red.

Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

For example, take the show Cabaret. It’s a show surrounded by a lot of sexuality and sex appeal. Instead of using the color red to show anger, like Plutchik’s color wheel shows, they use it to show sexuality, passion, and love. This is because red is a very emotionally intense color. It’s used to increase respiration rate and blood pressure. “Red light was reported to evoke higher cortical arousal measured by EEG than blue or green light” (Wilms, Oberfeld 897). Along with all of the scantily clad actors in Cabaret, the color red brings a large wave of emotion over any audience member.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

Now, let’s see the complete opposite. Next to Normal is a musical about depression and attempted suicide. The complete color shift between a show like this and Cabaret is incredibly noticeable. The cold blue of the light is extenuated by the grays of the costume. In this scene, the character Gabe, the long dead son, a figment of Diana’s imagination convinces her to commit suicide so the two can be together again. “In general to indicate ‘night scene’ blue light is used” (Basa). In this case the “night scene” is the depiction of Diana’s potential death. This interaction takes place during the song “There’s a World”. “Cold blues and grays can be used to instill melancholy or to soothe sadness” (lionhearttheatre.org/). In this scene, the combination of colors from the costumes and lights does just that.

Credit:Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Many times lighting can even be used to foreshadow something. Take Les Misérables for example. This is a snapshot of One Day More, one of the most iconic songs from Les Misérables . It’s a more serious song, but the color blue shows up. As mentioned before, blue is an indication of melancholy. One Day More isn’t a sad song. It’s a song that gets the blood pumping and hypes up the audience. It’s a show stopper. One Day More closes out the first act, and once the second act begins that’s when the trouble starts. Most of the characters shown don’t make it to the end. The color blue foreshadows their inevitable deaths throughout a very powerful and uplifting song.

You don’t just need lights surrounding the actors to convey emotion in theater. Using something called, a Gobo, lighting designers are able to add silhouettes to the lights, which adds a completely new dimension to just the lights. A gobo is a stencil carved into a metal plate.

Credit: https://www.stagelightingstore.com/diagonal-criss-crossed-lines-breakup-steel-gobos/27133-rosco-steel-gobo-rain-a

A great example of this is to use the Gobo for rain. Rain is already seen as something that conveys sadness and melancholy. If you combine that with a blue light the effect of the emotion can multiplied. Imagine it. Eponine from Les Misérables is singing “On My Own” beautifully. She’s truly emoting how alone she is how the man she loves doesn’t love her back. How does one increase the emotion output in this scene? Rain. Using actual water to depict rain is difficult and can cause electrical malfunctions as well as wardrobe malfunctions. The Gobo creates a perfect middle-ground where the emotion from the rain isn’t lost.

Credit: Les Misérables (2012)

As you can see in this screenshot from the movie, rain is actually being used during this scene. Unfortunately for the stage performers, they don’t have the luxury that screen actors have with effects like these.

Now, lighting isn’t the only way emotion is conveyed throughout theater. The choice of costumes plays a big role in how a character is viewed by the audience, and a lot of times it gives the audience a hint as to how that character will act.  For example, let’s look at Little Shop of Horrors.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

In the beginning, Seymour is wearing very ratty clothes and he looks like a mess, but the colors of his clothes, brown and blue, suggest stability and understanding. A little irony is thrown in there as well, since brown can also suggest masculinity. Seymour is not what one would call the stereotypical “masculine man”. All of this is seen in the opening number “Skidrow”. Seymour’s lines “Oh, I started life as an orphan. A child of the street. Here on skid row. He took me in [Mr. Mushnik], gave me shelter, a bed. Crust of bread and a job. Treats me like dirt, calls me a slob. Which I am” (Little Shop of Horrors). His life has a sense of stability. He works a dead-end job and though he hopes to move on to bigger and better things, he stays in the same place.

Now, once we get closer to the end of the show Seymour is wearing much more classy clothes. This shows his success from scene One to now.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

This is also seen through the color black, because black can signify elegance and prestige. On a darker note the colors of his clothes signify something completely different than from the first scene. Black and Gray signify fear and melancholy. Which is incredibly prevalent at the end of the show, where Seymour is in constant fear of Audrey 2 and doing whatever the plant asks of him. This is a complete 180 from the beginning of the show when he’s stable. His entire life is now in shambles and he doesn’t know what to do. Throughout Act Two, Seymour slowly starts to lose his mind (and everyone he loves).

The color of costumes can also be used to show one’s status. In revolutionary times, the color red was used to show royalty and a lot of shows that take place around that time period have adopted that color.

Credit: Hamilton

Take Hamilton for example. Jonathon Groff plays King George. The costume designers could have used any number of colors for the king to wear, but the chose red. Why? Well, it’s simple really. Not only did red signify royalty, but red also signifies power and passion. Power works well with King George because he was the ruler of the most powerful civilization at that time. Passion is shown through King George’s song, “You’ll be Back“. King George sings, “So don’t throw away this thing we had. Cuz when push comes to shove. I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love” (Hamilton). He threatens to kill friends and family to bring back America into his clutches. That’s incredibly passionate (albeit a little crazy as well).

Shying away from the design portion of theater. Probably the biggest way that emotion is conveyed in theater is through the actors. A simple facial expression doesn’t always work in showing emotion, as not everyone will have a front row seat. It’s a little different than film in that aspect. In film, you can get a close-up of a character and see the emotion on their face. In theater, the act of showing emotion may have to be very exaggerated, depending on the size of the theater.

Credit: https://www.slashfilm.com/mother-honest-trailer/

Take this screenshot of Jennifer Lawrence from Mother! for example. This is something that is impossible for an audience watching a play to be able to see. You can clearly see that Lawrence is shocked and scared. Facial expressions are pivotal in film, but they take a backseat to more exaggerated motions in theater.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

This is another scene from Next Normal. The father, Dan, and the dead son, Gabe are both singing at Diana, trying to get her to pay attention them. The actress could have easily just made a face to portray frustration, but the hand over her ear makes it easier for the audience to grasp what’s she’s actually going through. Dan and Gabe act as the voices in her hand and she’s fighting them off in order to have her own voice heard.

This doesn’t mean that facial expressions aren’t needed in theater. They are still needed, and still play an important role at showing emotion to the audience. Who wants to watch an actor sing and dance around the stage while they have a deadpan look at their face? Actors need a perfect balance in facial expressions and motions in order to create the perfect emotion.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

Here’s another scene from Next to Normal. This is one of the most emotional scenes from the show, “I am the One (Reprise)“. Diana has just left Dan, in order for herself to get better. Dan is completely heartbroken and can’t believe she would leave after all he’s done for her. He starts singing “I am the one who loved you. I am the one who stayed. I am the one and you walked away” (Next to Normal). Gabe cannot believe that his father is saying this as he’s pushed Gabe’s memory away for years as he responds with, “I know you told her [Diana] that I’m not worth a damn. But I know you know who I am” (Next to Normal).

Finally, Dan acknowledges Gabe, his son, after trying to push his memory away. In Quinnipiac University’s performance both actors could be seen crying each and every performance. It was incredibly prevalent in their final performance together. What should be known is that the final performance of Next to Normal was also both actor’s final shows at Quinnipiac University. Their emotion got the best of them and they both broke down in the waning moments of the song. So much, in fact, Gabe couldn’t finishing singing the final line of the song. Using one’s own feelings is another powerful way to convey emotions. “At the same time, actors’ portrayals can be strongly influenced by subjective feelings, especially when produced via techniques based on emotional imagination or memory” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Not everyone can cry on command, so using a past memory or feeling can make someone get into that mindset. It may not be crying, but slumped shoulders, arched back, head down, all indicate that someone is upset.

In order for an actor to grab the audience’s attention the emotion they convey has to be perfect. People zone out sometimes, but “If you think a little deeper, you’ll realize that in those moments what makes you stop, think, and engage is oftentimes some kind of content that provides a more visceral experience” (actiongraphicsnj.com). Moments like watching both actors break down on stage, pull you into the action, which is why at this moment the only thing that could be heard was crying and sniffles from the audience.

Unfortunately, a lot of times actors try and take these moments too far. You don’t want to play for the laugh. “Actors who set themselves up for a laugh, or pre-empt a joke, are often detrimental to other actors on stage, and themselves” (stagemilk.com). Essentially what this means is, if you received a laugh on your opening performance, you may try to get a bigger laugh the next night and overdo it. Most of the times this happens, the reaction isn’t laughter. This also works with sadness, like in Next to Normal. Every actor in the show knew how depressing and upsetting the show was, but every night they didn’t try and force the audience to cry. They played truth. It’s a lot like manipulating photos using photoshop. “The public has lost trust in the media. We have to be ambassadors of the truth, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard because the public no longer trusts the media” (lens.blogs.nytimes.com). If an actor stops playing the truth, the audience will lose trust in them.

So far we’ve covered, lighting, costumes, and actors. The final way that emotion is conveyed in theater is through staging. This is where the director comes in.

Credit: Quinnipiac University

Let’s take a look at another scene from Next to Normal. This is a perfectly staged shot that can indicate to anyone looking at this picture what’s going on. It’s a classic example of one of Gestalt’s principles, proximity. Dan and Diana are next to each other, seemingly the couple in this photo. While Gabe looks at them longingly, just hoping to be acknowledged. In the scene itself, Dan is talking to Diana about receiving ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) to help her delusional episodes about seeing her dead son. Gabe, not wanting to be forgotten is trying to fight back, but at this point in the scene he’s too late and has given up. All he can do is hope his mother doesn’t take the therapy so he won’t be forgotten.

A lot of staging in theater is surrounded by the Gestalt principle. Similarity, enclosure, continuation, closure, proximity, figure-ground are all used when staging a show.

Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBEKB5Pid4g

Take West Side Story for example. The song Quintet (Tonight) is a perfect example of similarity. There are five groups in the song (from left to right): Anita, the Sharks, Tony, the Jets, and Maria. The Jets are paired together because they are all part of the same group, same with the Sharks. Anita is next to the Sharks as she is dating the leader of the group, Bernardo. Tony is next to the Jets as he was once a member and is best friends with the leader of the group, Riff.

Enclosure can be shown through the set design of a show and how the director creates the stage around it. The set could consist of a house and outside the house is a street. All the actors inside of the house would be grouped as living inside the house, while everything outside the house would be grouped together there.

Credit: Les Misérables

Continuation can be seen here as all of the actors are staged so the audience’s eyes keep going back and they continue to see a group of people all fighting for the same cause. Figure-ground can also be seen in this scene from Les Misérables. “The figure-ground principle helps to explain which element in a design will immediately be perceived as the figure and which will be perceived as the ground” (canva.com). The figure immediately being perceived is Enjolras, the leader of the rebellion. The flag in the background is seen as the ground, along with the members of the rebellion further away from Enjolras.

There are many ways emotions can be shown in theater, but the only way to properly show them off is through every part working in tandem. Costumes, lighting, acting, staging. Everything needs to work hand-in-hand to get the proper effect.

References

Admin. “4 Powers of Lightning in Theatre.” Lionheart Theatre, 3 Aug. 2015, https://lionhearttheatre.org/4-powers-of-lightning-in-theatre__trashed/.

Basa, Murali. “Role of Lighting in Creating Mood and Emotion.” Academia.edu, https://www.academia.edu/390533/Role_of_Lighting_in_creating_mood_and_emotion.

Bonner, Carolann. “Using Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions.” Thoughtbot, https://thoughtbot.com/blog/gestalt-principles. (Module 2)

Busche, Laura. “Simplicity, Symmetry and More: Gestalt Theory and the Design Principles It Gave Birth To.” Learn, Canva, 15 May 2019, https://www.canva.com/learn/gestalt-theory/. (Module 2)

Carter, William. “Emotion Through Theatrical Lighting.” Visual Rhetoric Emotion Through Theatrical Lighting Comments, 2014, https://pages.uncc.edu/visualrhetoric/projects/individual-projects/emotion-through-theatrical-lighting/.

Harwood, Jim, et al. “Don’t Play for Laughs: Acting Tip.” StageMilk, 24 Nov. 2014, https://www.stagemilk.com/dont-play-laughs/.

Jürgens, Rebecca, et al. “Effect of Acting Experience on Emotion Expression and Recognition in Voice: Non-Actors Provide Better Stimuli than Expected.” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, vol. 39, no. 3, 2015, pp. 195–214., doi:10.1007/s10919-015-0209-5.

Klanten, Robert, and Andrew Losowsky. Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten-Verl., 2012.Liron, Yuvalal, et al. “Dramatic Action: A Theater-Based Paradigm for Analyzing Human Interactions.” Plos One, vol. 13, no. 3, Aug. 2018, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193404. (Module 1)

Lupton, Ellen. Design Is Storytelling. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2017. (Module 2)

Mcleod, Saul. “Visual Perception Theory.” Visual Perception | Simply Psychology, 2018, https://www.simplypsychology.org/perception-theories.html. (Module 2)

The New York Times. “Staging, Manipulation and Truth in Photography.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Oct. 2015, https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/16/staging-manipulation-ethics-photos/. (Moduel 7)

“The Psychology of Color: A Designer’s Guide to Color Association & Meaning.” ZevenDesign, 12 Oct. 2018, https://zevendesign.com/color-association/#black.

Wagemans, Johan, et al. “A Century of Gestalt Psychology in Visual Perception: I. Perceptual Grouping and Figure-Ground Organization.” Psychological Bulletin, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482144/. (Module 2)

Wilms, Lisa, and Daniel Oberfeld. “Color and Emotion: Effects of Hue, Saturation, and Brightness.” Psychological Research, vol. 82, no. 5, 2017, pp. 896–914., doi:10.1007/s00426-017-0880-8.

“Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling.” Action Graphics, 26 July 2018, https://actiongraphicsnj.com/blog/4-principles-visual-storytelling/. (Module 2)

Posted in Visual Storytelling

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Credit: Forbes.com

Pollution has been a problem for the Earth for hundreds of years. Garbage would be left out in the street, with rarely anything cleaning up (save for a Good Samaritan or the street cleaners). Pollution is only even more prevalent today. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now more than 600,000 square miles in size. For reference, Alaska is approximately 663,268 square miles in size. Now this isn’t just one garbage patch, there are multiple ones that float throughout the Pacific Ocean. Luckily that means we don’t have one garbage patch the size of Alaska floating around the ocean, but we do have two patches that could each roughly be half the size of Alaska. That’s still not good and something has to be done. Luckily for us the cleanup is finally underway.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

This is a map of both great garbage patches, and the routes they take around the ocean. It’s a very educational image. It doesn’t so much grab the viewer’s attention right away, but it educates them. It’s a great example of science visualization. “Science Visualization helps scientists overcome communications barriers through visual storytelling” (http://sciencevisualization.com). An image like this makes it much easier to convey where each garbage patch is in relation to the land and the other patch.

https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/how-big-great-pacific-garbage-patch-science-vs-myth.html

Here we see the effects of the pollution from the great pacific garbage patch. Many animals, not just birds suffer from ingesting the garbage we throw out. This picture gives the viewer a visceral response. “From the user’s point of view, Visceral responses involve an automatic evaluation of the perceptual properties of objects, and a quick classification of them as safe or dangerous, good or bad, cold and forbidding or warm and inviting” (Norman). We get an automatic response when we look at this. It’s a cruel image seeing all of our garbage inside of a poor animal, but it grabs attention. It does its job. Draw the attention of the viewer, let them notice how bad this picture is so they read the article and get educated on the pollution problem.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/03/great-pacific-garbage-patch-cleanup-underway/3854722002/

Above is an aerial view of the garbage patch. It’s disgusting that so much of this has been thrown into the ocean and this image is only a miniscule amount of it. I think this image is a strong piece visual to show the horrors of the great pacific garbage patches, because it shows a diverse group of garbage. It’s not just plastic or paper. “A diversity of visual elements enhances the appeal of science communication to a wide audience” (ian.umces.edu). A lot of that isn’t just garbage from our trash cans. It’s garbage dumped off boats and garbage that hasn’t been recycled properly.

https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/ocean-cleanup-working?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

What we see here is the start of the cleanup. “‘The cleanup system includes a barrier that holds a 10-foot screen below it to catch plastics without interfering with marine life’, The Guardian reported. ‘The self-contained system uses natural currents of the sea to passively collect plastic debris in an effort to reduce waste in the ocean.’” (usatoday.com). This image gives us an idea as to how the cleanup will work. Connected with the image above a viewer, without any scientific background, can have an understanding as to how the cleanup process will work. “Visual imagery can say so much more than words alone…” (skyword.com).

https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

This final image gives us the human element. All of the other images above have not had a human touch in it (besides all the garbage). Here we can clearly see that scientists and workers are doing something about the problem. It’s not just a boat and it’s not just talk. We can see them actively doing something about the problem. “The best way to achieve identification is to get your target audience to take the pictures themselves and submit them to your site, so you can display your customers’ images alongside your own” (yotpo.com). We’re all humans on the same planet. Most of us know the environment is in trouble and that we need to do something about it. We can all identify with these people who did take that step. They are out there actively trying to make the world a healthier place. “All stories operate on two levels – these are the action level and the narrative level. The action level (the formal system) describes what happens and the narrative level (the stylistic system) how it happens” (Bergstrom 16). If we take a closer look at this image we can see both levels of the story. The action level is the men on the boat are participating in the cleanup. The narrative level is they are using a special kind of net to drag all the garbage towards them.

All of these images work in tandem to show a story, but they all have their own stories to tell. They tell the story of how we need to be more proactive in protecting our environment.

References

Bergström Bo. Essentials of Visual Communication. Laurence King, 2009.“

How the Travel Industry Is Using Visual Storytelling to Bring Its Economic Impact into Clear View.” The Content Standard by Skyword, 15 Oct. 2019,

https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/creativity/how-the-travel-industry-is-using-visual-storytelling-to-bring-its-economic-impact-into-clear-view/.Jones, Adrian. Practical Visual Literacy for Science Communication ” IAN/EcoCheck Blog,

https://ian.umces.edu/blog/2017/03/28/practical-visual-literacy-for-science-communication/.Science Visualization, http://sciencevisualization.com/.Zen, Pola.

http://projectsfinal.interactionivrea.org/2004-2005/SYMPOSIUM%202005/communication%20material/DESIGNERS%20AND%20USERS_Norman.pdf

“Storytelling Secrets For Creating Images That Connect.” Yotpo, 22 July 2019, https://www.yotpo.com/blog/5-visual-storytelling-secrets-to-improve-your-marketing-images/.

Posted in Visual Storytelling

Photo Manipulation is a Big Problem

            The greatest sin in visual storytelling is manipulating photos, or in a lot of cases using Photoshop to make the viewer see something you want them to see instead of the truth. When a corporation or a person is found out to be manipulating their photo it damages their credibility. For example, National Geographic did this one time with the Pyramids of Giza, where “The horizontal image was altered to fit the vertical cover, shifting the two pyramids closer together. When the issue was publicly released, the photographer, Gordon Gahan, saw the cover and complained” (alteredimagesbdc.org ). This really damaged the credibility of National Geographic and the Director of Photography, Tom Kennedy had to come out and say, “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today” (alteredimagesbdc.org ).

            Photo manipulation completely changes the way people view the world or incidents. One of the best example of how photos can be manipulated to serve a persons’ or corporation’s agenda is this photo here:

http://toinformistoinfluence.com/2012/06/15/images-a-matter-of-perspective

            There are three different ways this photo can be viewed. The middle way is just the original photo. You have multiple soldiers around an enemy, taking care of him, but also on guard (hence the gun). The far left way, which cuts off the soldier giving the enemy water. It just looks like he’s a prisoner of war and the solider holding the gun is about to shoot him. The far right way shows a soldier giving water to an enemy. There are two sides to every coin.

            Other than what the media can do manipulate someone’s viewpoint, photoshopping has become a big problem in the beauty world. Models are already viewed as beautiful, but the way that their agencies and editors take to their photos is disgusting. It completely changes the “ideal” look. No one can have wrinkles. That’s considered unattractive because none of the models or celebrities in the magazines have them. It’s all Photoshop. It puts a huge burden on the younger generation, because now that’s their ideal beauty. “Many of us fall victim to unattainable beauty desires—even if deep down we know computer-generated perfection will never be within grasp” (beautylish.com). This “beauty” is something no one can attain because it’s all computer generated.

References

Clair, Stella Rose Saint. “The Photoshop Controversy: Does Photo Editing Alter Our Perceptions Of Beauty?” Beautylish, 30 Oct. 2013, http://www.beautylish.com/a/vxgms/airbrushing-photographs-controversy.

Harding, Joel. “Images: A Matter of Perspective.” To Inform Is to Influence, 15 June 2012, toinformistoinfluence.com/2012/06/15/images-a-matter-of-perspective/.

“National Geographic.” ALTERED IMAGES, http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/national-geographic/.

Posted in Visual Storytelling

How to visualize data

Like my other post this week, I attempted to create my own images to show something off. My first post was about telling a story about the United States, this post is about showing data (data visualization). “Data visualization is the graphical representation of information and data. By using visual elements like charts, graphs, and maps, data visualization tools provide an accessible way to see and understand trends, outliers, and patterns in data” (https://www.tableau.com). The clearer you make the data the easier it is for people to understand what you’re trying to convey.

I chose to do Boston sports championships. Now, I’m not a Boston sports fan. Not in the slightest, but they have won the most championships in recent memory, which gives me the most data to work with. Luckily my girlfriend’s roommate is a big Boston fan so when I visited her this past weekend I was able to take pictures of each pennant she had hanging on the wall. Since I was doing chronological data I used a vertical chart as my form of data visualization. “Vertical (column chart) is best used for chronological data (time-series should always run left to right), or when visualizing negative values below the x-axis” (https://cdn2.hubspot.net). I wasn’t using a time-series, but my data is chronological, labeling each championship each team had won. If I were to do this again I would try a line graph starting from the first championship a Boston team won and show the distances between championships.

References

“Data Visualization Beginner’s Guide: a Definition, Examples, and Learning Resources.” Tableau Software, https://www.tableau.com/learn/articles/data-visualization.

Hubspot, Visage. “Data Visualization 101: How to Design Charts and Graphs”. PDF file.